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L&D Strategy

Why Context (Not Content) is Key to Driving High-Performance Digital L&D


Blake Proberts is joined on the Strategic L&D Podcast by Josh Cardoz—an independent Digital Learning Strategist with over a decade’s experience helping organisations go digital the right way. The two talk about why designing with a digital mindset enables you to scale your learning at speed, how you can empower stakeholders by thinking of learning data as a conversation with learners, and the important role digital learning plays in capability building. Listen to the full episode above or watch below.

This article is a transcript of a podcast first published in November 2022.

Thanks for joining us Josh. Tell me about yourself and your background.

Yeah, sure. And thanks for having me. So I’m an independent digital learning strategist. And what that means is I’ve spent the better part of a decade just helping organisations go digital the right way. Whether that’s building their digital learning strategy from the ground up, or fine tuning it, or building great digital learning experiences—just helping them create amazing things.

Previously, I was the head of digital learning experience at a large professional services firm. And prior to that I was head of the solutions design team for, sort of, a creative digital learning agency. So whether it’s leading LXD teams or supporting the C-suite, I’ve kind of seen a little bit of it all in the corporate L&D world.

I also teach at the University of Toronto, I teach a certificate program on learning experience design. And lately, I’ve been producing a fun audio series called Digital Learning Done Right, which is for digital learning leaders to help fine tune their learning strategies. So anything at the intersection of design or story or learning or technology, that’s probably where you’ll find me.

Yeah, you know what it’s, I will say, it’s, it’s hard sometimes to hold on to it, because obviously, you’re balancing it on the side. But yeah, I think my colleague was reminding me, I’ve been doing it for about seven years now, which is kind of crazy. But I love it. I love doing it. I love not only having great communities of practice with people that are in the industry, but also obviously, helping that next generation of learning designer with the right mindset and skills to succeed.

If you had to boil down one key lesson from your experience in the learning industry, what would it be?

Well, I mean, I think that’s part of the inspiration for why I call the, the audio series Digital Learning Done Right, is because it’s pretty easy to do it wrong in the field out there. And I think it’s, you know, ‘learning technology’ is a bit of a misnomer. And I find that, in, at least in the partnerships that I’ve had over the years, the ones that actually worked the best were when we actually didn’t talk about technology at all. And we started with really simple questions, and really simple but powerful and complex questions. And we use technology as, sort of, one of the pieces in our tool belt, as opposed to just leading with it.

“We [should] use technology as one of the pieces in our tool belt, as opposed to just leading with it.”

And if I were to say, you know, what’s the one key piece coming from the digital learning world? It’s just don’t lead with the technology. I know, it sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it’s true, it’s—you tend to get very caught up in features and, you know, being aligned to the standard or that standard, or what functionality can do and you just get caught up in that world. So don’t lead with the technology.

How important do you see tech being in the learning ecosystem?

Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s hard to not, you know, embrace it to a certain degree. I mean, you have to, right? And I think the the pressure on our world in HR and L&D is, I feel like it was just kind of like thrust upon us. And you certainly when you think about like the early days of eLearning, and the authoring tools on the slideware and the quick conversion of textbooks and classroom teaching into whatever it is that we call eLearning now. You can see there’s this huge gap of ditch of digitisation. And I always like to make the difference between digitisation and digitalisation. And just that’s the difference of approach to how you want to get it done.

And using technology, there’s so much amazing, sophisticated consumer-grade technology experiences out there. And I think the thing that’s just always really important to think about is just what’s the most meaningful use of it. And I think that’s something that we don’t pause enough to really ask, whenever we’re thinking of going digital, there’s always sort of the usual suspects, right? We do it for scale, we do it for efficiency. Sometimes we do it for speed, sometimes we do it for cost.

But I’m a big advocate, actually, of something I call the digital advantage. And that’s something that we don’t really talk too much about when we’re saying, Hey, I wanted to do eLearning or use EdTech in a certain way, because we’re so—certainly as you know, senior leaders—we’re so caught up in well, we need to scale this to 10,000 people. Well, it needs to be digital, because we can’t do workshops all around the world, whoever that may be. And we kind of reduced the technology to the, sort of, very rudimentary form of like scale, reach, speed and stuff. But there’s so much more that the technology can offer.

“[We’ve] reduced the technology to the very rudimentary form of scale, reach, speed. We’re not using digital in the ways that we can to really augment the learning experience.”

And that’s really what I’m an advocate of is, like, let’s—when we design with a digital mindset, things like data, things like storytelling, and new forms, and new media forms, things like accessibility, which is so prominent these days, these are all things that digital can do in a way that the in-person experience simply can’t. And it’s, and it’s not to contrast one or the other, or say one is better than the other. I’m definitely not of that camp. But it’s more of we’re not using digital in the ways that we can to really augment the learning experience.

On that note, how important do you see data be in the L&D and technology world?

Yeah, I mean, this is just such an underserved part of what we’re trying to do, you know. And sometimes I think we, we tend to forget why L&D exists, you know, as a function within organisations. I think we just kind of get caught up in the stuff. Creating the stuff, administering the stuff, registering the stuff executing the stuff, you know. And we don’t take a step back and be like, well, we’re actually here to help solve business problems, organisational challenges, seize opportunities, help people be at their best.

And I find that, you know, as L&D professionals, we also tend to be a little intimidated by data. Because it is, it is a big term. And you know, it does need specialist expertise to a certain degree. But I prefer to kind of just—rather than say data, I just like to say insights, and information. And as learning designers, as learning strategists, we all have things that we are interested in and want to know. What, even—you know, not to go as far high up as okay, what are the business problems that we’re trying to solve? And what’s the role of learning in it? But even bring it down to the efficacy of your own programs. You know, is this—if I do this, is that right? Is that what people are looking for or not?

Data is just simply a conversation to help us do that. It’s a conversation between us and our learners, to learn more about them so that we can help them a bit more. And you know, to take it to a further step bigger than that is to even say, Well, what if we gave that data to our learners themselves? You know, what if we put them in the driver’s seat and say, hey, here are the metrics? And you know, in certain fields—you know, sales is a really great example of it or, you know, a specific product training—there’s very specific data points that govern the role and business performance. And so depending on who your audience is, they’ve already got a keen sense of like, okay, this is the data I need to go, how do I help impact that metric? And how do I need to get there? Right, and so some are better at talking in terms of data and getting used to it and data. But I find that we’re a little afraid on the L&D side to really approach data. And I don’t mean completion. That’s not a data point. (Well, it is, but not in isolation!)

“Data is just simply… a conversation between us and our learners, to learn more about them so that we can help them.”

But you know, to really start having conversations about well, you know, what, what if we took that two-week training, and rather than have it be, you know, three to four, two-hour sessions, maybe we did it in 10-minute chunks every other day? What would happen? Well, we need the data to know what would happen, if that were to happen. So it’s, it’s something where you really need to take the plunge as an organisation and becoming more data driven, more dataset—more data-centric, I would say as well, too. So putting data at the heart of your learning strategy, and not something as opposed to like, oh, well, we’ll measure something if we have time at the end.

You mentioned making that the heart of your L&D strategy. How do you find L&D strategy typically aligns with business strategy?

Yeah, you know, it’s, I gotta say, it’s getting better. It’s getting a lot better. And I think that business leaders are starting to look to L&D as really a catalyst for change and for solutions, which is really great. And I think vice versa. I think L&D leaders are also saying, hey, if I don’t speak to the business, and if I don’t show up to that business table, we need to justify more and more of why even we exist and what we’re trying to do.

And so, in the, in the organisations that I’ve partnered with, the ones that have the most nuanced sense of how their strategy is executed are the ones that are really succeed in the L&D sphere. The ones that show up with that RFP of like, we’re not looking for a tech vendor or, you know, a content solution. What we’re actually looking for is to solve this business challenge. How do you think we can solve this business challenge? And really starting there. And also having sort of this green pastures look at it as well, too, because, you know, as we know, we love training. We love L&D, but sometimes training might not even be the answer, right? And having an honest conversation about that as well, too.

And so the ones that I find that succeed the most are the ones that can quickly grab the different parts of the business that are relevant, and can also enable certain things within their organisation as well, too. I think that’s important. Those are the ones that succeed a lot and constantly do that kind of internal networking within their within their own organisation—certainly large, complex organisations. Those are the ones that really succeed. Or, you know, if you’ve been on the client side, such as I have for most of my career, you’re doing that work upfront to be like, oh, you haven’t spoken to that department yet? Let’s have a conversation. And maybe you’re facilitating that conversation, to extract those metrics about why we’re here and what are we trying to do? That’s where the data-driven conversations begin, before we jump quickly to the solution.

Yeah, and L&D is just one of the levers within an organisation, right. In the same way a business can’t expect L&D to solve all their challenges, L&D also shouldn’t presume that it’s there to solve all the business challenges—or that training, you know, in a certain way can.

I mean, to give you one example, that we once went through quite a long client journey. And you know, of course, on the vendor side, you’re trying to secure business and get a win. But it ended up being a much better, healthier customer relationship. We went through this almost three, six-month process, just trying to understand the challenge of what we’re trying to do. And by the end of it, we actually both realised that, huh, maybe building this one hour content isn’t the right thing for us right now and what we’re trying to do. Which is obviously tough for us in terms of kind of just walking away from from certain business, but it could have been just easy for us to take that and say, let’s build this one hour course, whatever that may be, and let’s hope that something sticks or hope that it’s going to impact it.

L&D is just one of the levers within an organisation. In the same way a business can’t expect L&D to solve all their challenges, L&D also shouldn’t presume that it’s there to solve all the business challenges—or that training… can.”

But rather, it kind of turned into a totally different direction, we went more strategic, we built out a strategy around trying to solve it. And it ended up being much more along the lines of targeted job aids, that was far less use of the client’s budget, but a much more efficient one, that ended up being much more impactful than trying to go through this big, long, broad learning which they thought that they needed or wanted. So another great reason to have these conversations early, and also to have them in a meaningful way, is that it actually helps maximise the efficiency of your budgets so you can put it towards more meaningful things down the road.

What are some of the challenges you see when you’re putting together that process and designing those activities?

Well, I think I think it’s a matter of kind of getting out of rivers of thinking, right? We the—we’re in such an interesting field because everyone has learned something at some point in their life, right? Learning is ubiquitous. And we bring this prior experience with us, whether it’s institutionalised in the classroom, or the lecture hall, or whether it’s from online training that, you know, you poor thing have probably taken at some point. And they’re like, okay, this is what this is, what it can be, and should be.

And a big part of my role over the years has actually been about just opening up eyes. About no, this is what’s possible. And, you know, eLearning doesn’t have to be boring and dry, and, you know, stuff that needs to, you know, you know, pull your eyes out to get through, but rather, it can be inviting and engaging and story-driven and immersive. And so just really getting people on board, but starting by debunking what they think learning is and should be. Not that, you know, I’m the definitive expert on it, but certainly just working with, working with your key stakeholders’ concept of learning, understanding where they’re coming from, and what they think learning is and can achieve.

That can often be a stumbling point, depending on which organisation you’re working with, and also how imperative the project is. Because sometimes you’ve got like a great set of, you know, critical stakeholders, and then in the last minute, that key executive sponsor comes in, it’s like, well, why aren’t we doing it like this? And it’s like, you know, all the work that you’ve been working towards in the last three months is kind of shot, you know, to do it. So, you know, just never underestimate the amount of education you always need to have with your stakeholders to help sort of broaden minds around it.

Yeah. And I often find it’s helpful—something that I do with clients is, we kind of build this, sort of, manifesto at the very beginning, something that we can both align on and agree upon. And, you know, in typical executive style, you try and organise it and reduce it down to a one-slider and just say, you know—so that anytime anyone comes into a project, you know, you can start with a one slide, like, hey, we come across this journey. And these are the five things we believe this experience needs to be. And I use the word experience quite intentionally, because it’s not a course. It’s not an eLearning. It’s not a facilitated—it’s purely an experience. So that already starts that semantic journey starts with, okay, this feels experiential, as opposed to rote or whatever it is.

And also showing that you’ve worked with that team to achieve it. You know, that collaborative nature is super important. So that when that executive sponsor comes in, it’s not about like, oh, well, what are you telling me what learning is? Oh, this my team and you did this together? Okay, well, now I’m starting to listen a bit more. So I find that’s always super important to establish, and then you can go into describing the solution that you’re working towards.

How do you prioritise what to do within those experiences and how they’re made up and what activities they’re created from?

Yeah, I mean, it kind of starts with what we’ve been talking about. It starts with the business priorities, right? It starts with—I’m a huge fan of quick and early wins. I think we’re constantly in the battle for not only getting our organisations and their leaders to buy into new and interesting, exciting things that we’re doing, but also our learners, right? And I think, anytime we want to try and do something bold—which I’m a big fan of, by the way—in front of our learners, we also need to be careful about the energy and the time we extract in order to doing it.

So for me, it’s a balance of what’s important to the business, but also what’s going to have the biggest payoff, to getting that data—as we were talking about—to getting that data and bringing it back to our learners and the business and saying, hey, this worked or didn’t work, you know. That’s the other part too, right, is fail fast, learn fast, that sort of mentality. So obviously, you want to go to where the business i most needing something. But you also want to go to where’s the quickest place you can get data to learn.

And have you had much success proving the impact of that data, in regards to the correlation or causation behind the outcomes produced?

Now, this is a this is a great question and this comes back to the whole data being quite an intimidating thing for organisations, sort of thing. I mean, we all know it’s hard to definitively isolate the effects of learning on performance, either positive or—we know that. And, you know, I think the easy thing to do is to just throw in the towel and be like, okay, well, let’s go back to our completion rates, right.

But I tend to think of it in terms of a maturity curve, and every organisation is on a different maturity curve in terms of their relationship with data. I’ve worked with organisations that are really data savvy, and they’re ready to dive into the level three and four metrics and say, okay, we’ve got this, we’ve organised it on our side, let’s start talking about it. Oftentimes, I find we can’t even get, you know, organisations on board with that.

The other side of it is, you know, people that are, yeah, you know, for better or worse, saying, sorry, SCORM 1.2. That’s all I kind of go with, we have some smiley sheet stuff, and that’s it, you know. And, and you really need to take people where they are, organisations where they are, and rather than trying to, you know, pedal to the metal go, okay, well, let’s prove impact and correlation. And let’s go. I really think of it as just trying to move the needle. And depending on where the organisation is, and their relationship with data specifically in L&D, my goal is to come up with like, okay, well, we’re talking about these data points? What if we just took it two steps up? And let’s not, let’s not burden ourselves and put the pressure of like, okay, well prove the impact of this, prove that impact. Of course, we all want to get there.

“Rather than trying to pedal to the metal prove impact and correlation, I really think of it as just trying to move the needle.”

But I think it’s sort of a muscle you have to train and flex, to not only get better at it on the measurement side—of which technology has a role—and having the data and having the business organise itself around, okay, we care and prioritise these data points. But sort of nudging an organisation forward and saying, hey, well, let’s just focus perhaps on program improvement, because we can control that a little bit more. So maybe all the data that we’re trying to take in from our learners or from, you know, our pilots or anything like that, is just tied to how can we make this better? What’s working, what’s not.

And that opens the door to learner preferences and learner cadence. And now we can in, our next—and I like calling them data-driven experiments. It’s like in our next experiment that we can explore, okay, well, do you like videos better or do you like courses better? Do you like PDFs better? Do you consume this outside of work? Do you—if we gave you a device, would you do it or not?

Now, of course, this is all tied to sort of preference and usability and activity, but then you’re slowly getting the confidence, I think, as an organisation to say, let’s start targeting some of those business metrics, right? And it’s like, okay, well, if we know that if we can improve product knowledge around this, and we know that having X percent of proficient in product knowledge will allow you to sell this better, let’s do some A/B testing. Let’s see those that take this particular experience how they fare in terms of results in Q3 and 4, compare those results, you know.

And so getting the confidence to speak that language, and work your way up to what I think is, is a pragmatic strategy, if you ask me, rather than going to a client that’s totally unafraid. Certainly, on the EdTech side of things, you know, as a vendor, it’s like, we can come in with this amazing tech set and features and be like, oh, well, we’ve got 30 dashboards, and you know, and you’re gonna love it, you’re gonna do that. And it’s for a lot of people, that’s a lot, right. That’s, that’s, that’s a lot to go through. And so starting with the simple questions, what are you trying to achieve? And helping, helping your stakeholder form a concept and remind them that, okay, we want to get there. What if we started with this step next? How would you feel about that? What would it look like? Is your team ready to maybe collect some of that stuff in a post—because we do know that properly, collecting things and measuring things, even outside of the realm of technology, does take time, you need to literally wait for some time to take place before you can say this had an impact on something or not.

So just that commitment, keeping that momentum, a huge part of it is tied to your confidence with how you want to work with data. So I’m really big on helping, working with stakeholders to build their confidence and working with data.

Are there any things that you’ve seen that have helped people build that confidence in managing that data to get some of those quick and short sharp wins that you mentioned earlier?

Yeah, I really love—this is actually a great example of how we can use technology in certain ways. You know better than I do, you know, at a certain degree when you’ve got a learning technology platform in front of you, it’s a huge part of it will be reduced to what it’s capable of. And you know, so many times I’ve spoken to, you know, to stakeholders and they’ll have said, well, we’ve got, you know, this platform and this LXP, we’re using this for social—work with it, you know, and it’s like, make it work.

And I think part of, you know—obviously, I’m speaking from a very strong sort of client corporate bias—but this kind of applies to any sort of organisation and how it works. But coming together as a team and saying, here’s our tech landscape and here’s the data points we can extract. I feel like, teams don’t do that enough, of just sitting down and talking about what are we capable of doing? And how do we use that in new and exciting ways? Because sometimes it’s, sort of, left to this, sort of, transactional thing, oh, we need to deploy this training it needs to go and then maybe we’ll look at the dashboards, if we’re free one day, and I can remember my login credentials or something like that, right? But rather starting at the very beginning and be like, oh, this, okay, so we can track a cohort journey by this capability level, what could we do with that? And having an having a great conversation, whether it’s your internal team or with your, you know, technology partners to say—and the other thing, too, you know, that, on the client side that we kind of keep us a little bit of a secret, don’t be afraid to put your whole partners to work together,. You know, to say, hey, you are my chosen technology partners, you guys figure it out together. And they’ll, they’ll want to, there’s obviously a vested interest in doing that. But just sort of putting it all together, rather than looking at it in silos is a really important part of thinking about your data strategy, with technology.

But finding a way to just kind of pick on one metric—that’s other part too, about building the confidence. It’s like, pick one metric that you find interesting. Not even about relevant or impactful; that you find interesting that you can play with. I feel like we just don’t do enough playing in our roles of what we’re trying to do and say, is this going to work or is it not? And a really simple one is something that you can borrow from the marketing world where they just do subject line text testing, right? It’s like, if I include an emoji in my subject line, will it get more open rates than not? Start super simple like that.

“Finding a way to just pick on one metric [is the] other part about building confidence. Pick one metric that you find interesting. We don’t do enough playing in our roles.”

The one that I always love to do is to think about, you know, whether you’re working with engineers, or salespeople, you know—target audiences that are very much like, give it to me, and let me run with it. And let me go with it. Right, it’s like, well, how, if less is more with this group? How much is less? How less is less? And to a certain degree, what are they asking for? And is this the—is our relationship that you can find out through data, is our relationship mostly of like, you tell me what you need, and I’ll give it to you? Versus me thinking I know what you need, or predicting what you need, and then trying to figure out what to give it to you. So there’s, there’s lots of little different ways by just starting with simple questions, and trying to see if you can find an answer to it, and then going from there.

And just, just to add to that, I think another part of what’s, what’s the best way to go about it, also, is to actually think about what the business is looking for in terms of… and then that’s often a question that, you know, when I’m working with a project, the beginning of things, I like to, sort of, do like a, sort of a future state exercise with the team and say, okay, six months from now, we know we’re going to sit down and this stakeholder is going to come in. It’s going to be maybe the second time they see us this whole project. We’re going to have five minutes with them. What are they going to want to see, you know, and what’s, what’s, what’s the data points that are really top of mind for them these days? Is there a way we can approach that data points?

So just kind of like, we’re always just trying to buy into more of getting that organisation aligned, thinking about next year’s budget or whatever that may be. So whatever you can do to say, everything we did here is in support of those one or two metrics that that leader looks to us for is just a really pragmatic way to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

How do you go about categorising or logging and displaying those different metrics, that might be important to different teams, to the L&D team? Do you create personas?

You know what? I mean, I’ve definitely worked with personas in terms of like your target group. And you know, when you’re, when you’re building experiences for 10, 20, 30,000 people, you definitely need to start representing them in different ways, right. But never really thought about that in terms of, you know, your own organisation, and certainly the key stakeholders within it.

What I certainly like to do—and this is maybe just my PTSD from being burned a few times—but I love to set up my understanding of an org chart within, within a project team. And I, and I ask sometimes some painfully obvious questions, because I—because sometimes you’ll be at the 11th hour project and be like, oh, well, this person needed to weigh in much bigger than that person. Or IT or legal or, you know, needs to come in and do this. And so just setting up that sort of project management component of like, okay, here’s who’s who in the house. And, okay, so before this goes to this stage, this person needs to look at it, and what exactly are we asking of them? When, when they do see it?

And so, and certainly, this also is beneficial for the key sponsor on your side as well, too, because maybe they haven’t thought about it as well, too. Because from their standpoint, it’s like, okay, well, this person just needs to be CCed on this email. And, you know, and, and then that might just be, you know, from their standpoint, but for that individual who is being honest, like, no, I need to review every t and every i that needs to be done. And so while there’s so that I find is a great exercise to just iron out all the things that, you know, need to be validated to, to bring something across the finish line.

And I can see an org chart being very useful for things like developing even like a budget or business case to go and get training, right?

Yeah, no, that’s a great point, too. And I’m thinking of a couple of stories now where, you know, you have these amazing conversations about what you want to achieve in your organisation. And you go, well, I just don’t have the reach for it, or the budget for it, or the you know, whatever it is. And I think we’re all in that situation.

And the conversation then quickly pivots to well, what would it take for us to get that budget? You know, what would it take for us to eventually do it? And then all of a sudden, we, you know—to your question earlier, but how do you prioritise these things? It’s like, okay, well, we know that’s where we want to be. So how do we get there? Oh, well, this stakeholder really wants to see the, you know, the bottom line on this type of experience. They want to know that, you know, people like it or not, people are taking it and people are engaged with it.

And then you know, and then you’re building onto that concept, like, okay, great. And as they’re taking in the thing, is there a component where maybe we can learn more about their needs and what they’re trying to do, and maybe we can have a group event? So you’re kind of building on it. And all of a sudden, you’re starting with something very small and tactical and focused, that you know, can be executed in the next three to six months or something like that. But you’re building towards that dream that that key stakeholder you’re working with has, and saying, let’s get that win so that you can get that bigger win down the road.

Do you have any secret sauce around training budgets?

The secret sauce is don’t go to training for the budget.

It’s, well, I mean, I’m saying that with a with a smile on my face! But there is a certain truth in it in the sense of—and it’s actually a great indicator of how an organisation is set up as well too, in terms of how an organisation is dedicated to what they consider to be an L&D budget or, you know, performance budget or whatever that may be.

But, you know, having worked in all sorts of fields, you know, whether it’s, you know, sales training, leadership training, diversity. So where it’s coming—where the budget is coming from, is a good indicator of also the priority within the business. And so sometimes, you know, you’ve got a budget to work with, and it is what it is, and you got to find success within it. But sometimes also, you’re working in partnership with your stakeholders to say, how can we—how can you, how can we partner within the business to maybe extend it further knowing that we’re all touching on the same metrics and touching on the same things that are going to get impact? And where I’ve often found success is being able to have that conversation with that business leader in a different unit, and talk about the vision that we are trying to accomplish and then saying, are you on board or not?

And very rarely do you get an answer along the lines of oh, well, this is an L&D initiative and so, you know, as you were. But rather more of like, okay, I’m excited about this, you know, how can I, how can I contribute to it as well, too? So sometimes, you know, you just need to do a little bit more of the legwork ahead of time to get partnership within the business. Because you know, there’s, there’s always benefits to being on in-house in an organisation. There’s always benefits to being on the vendor client side. And I’d say probably one of the great benefits of being on the client vendor side is that sometimes you just get to be that third person looking into a room and asking those questions that might stimulate conversation, or bring out that elephant in the room and help, help that organisation just speak to each other more, and get galvanised around a project or an initiative in a way that maybe they just didn’t feel like they could.

“If it starts and ends with the training budget, it means that I… haven’t helped my key stakeholder look towards their business to try and see where else can they get help.”

You know, I’m a strong, I’m a strong proponent of like, we’re just in a human business. We’re just in the business of, whether we’re creating things together, or we’re, you know, trying to help our end group, it’s all just human contact, it’s human relationships. And so just the most fun, I’ve also had, I would say, you know, in working in different projects, and clients, as are the ones where it’s like, let’s get some energy and excitement around this initiative. And let’s bring the whole business on board with us to do it. And yeah, and they certainly lead to stronger budgets as well, too. But usually, if it starts and ends with the training budget, it means that I haven’t done my job in terms of, you know, uncovering more. Or I haven’t helped my key stakeholder look towards their business to try and see where else can they get help.

Yeah, and, you know, we’re, and we’re all just here to solve the problem, right. You know, I say, problem is also could be an opportunity, but it’s also just, you know, that’s—L&D is just one of the levers. And that’s why, you know, I strongly believe that at, that key business table, or whatever it is, you should bring as many people as possible because everyone’s got a unique perspective on that challenge. And everyone’s got a really unique perspective on, you know, IT can solve a certain problem if you, you gave it enough focus in a certain way around what it’s trying to do, right.

“From the CEO’s perspective… the most efficient use of your budget is… no waste because you found the right, the best way to understand the problem before you dive into solving it.”

And from, you know, the, the CEO’s perspective, that’s actually the most efficient use of your budget is that, you know, there’s no waste there because you found the right, the best way to understand the problem before you dive into solving it. And I think that L&D budgets kind of trickled down the path of like, oh we’re presuming we know, the solution, and the solution is training. Or the solution is technology to put forward the training. And it’s only one of those two things, and there’s nothing else that L&D can contribute to the organisation, which we of course, know is not true, right.

How do you then go about aligning people leaders across the organisation?

Yeah, you know, I think it’s a little bit of drink your own Kool Aid. You know, it’s the is that a reference that makes sense outside of North America? Cool. I don’t remember the last time I drank Kool Aid, but anyway.

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s I mean, my career has always sort of been crafted around immersive, engaging experiences, and whatever we need to do to capture hearts and minds of our audiences. And so bringing in elements of film and marketing and advertising, anything to get people excited about something. That’s always what I found is just the most persuasive, persuasive way to convince anyone in anything. So why wouldn’t we use that for our own internal stakeholders, right?

So there is this—this is, you know, a good example of, you know, working towards that bigger dream that you have within, you know, the organisation. We ran a great pilot, and it actually, there was some amazing stories in there. But we also knew that in this organisation that was like globally dispersed and 50,000 people, we also knew that this was probably not going to make it beyond their SharePoint site or whatever it is. And so we actually put aside a little bit of budget to create a trailer around it. A trailer around the pilot itself. And we brought in audience testimonials. We spoke a little bit about the design and of course we ended with the metrics and what we tried to do and we just made it this amazing best practice lesson learned. Threw it onto the social channels and we didn’t say much about it. And we just said here, this is some amazing thing we did.

But the way it was packaged, the way we told the story around it, created so much buzz within the organisation, that that individual ended up getting so much more response and engagement from other parts of the business like, hey, can you do what you did? Except do it in this region for us? Or can you do that except for this? You know.

“This concept of making something go viral within your organisation… everyone’s moving in the same direction within an organisation: we know what the strategy is, we know how we need to do it. And here’s L&D’s role in helping to execute that.”

And so this concept of making something go viral within your organisation, it’s not just for your learners. It’s, everyone’s moving in the same direction within an organisation of we know what the strategy is, we know how we need to do it. And here’s L&D’s role in helping to execute that. And it—what I find particularly exciting about it, coming back to everyone’s got their own notion of what learning is, or you know what it can be, it just helps redefine and raise the bar for what training, learning can be within an organisation and go, oh, I didn’t know you guys are capable of that. Or that’s really cool. It’s like, oh, I didn’t know that was learning. Well, what is learning? You know?

And it’s, and so just finding a way to package that tell the story, give it a little bit of a polished look. And of course, that’s a little bit of an investment as well, too. But if you’ve got a large, complex organisation, it’s such an amazing way to cut through the noise and say, look at this amazing thing that we’ve been working on that you just didn’t know about yet.

And, and, of course, if you’re also like, trying to spread the word about, you know, coming back to compliance training or trying to spread the word about nudging people to say, hey, you should probably take this exciting training, it also creates this amazing sense of FOMO, right of like, oh, okay, well, this sounds kind of cool. When’s it coming to my neck of the woods? You know, and so it’s that buzz, that excitement, like any good trailer, it just leaves you wanting more.

Have you seen much success with organisations mapping their training to capabilities and skills within the organisation?

Yeah, this is this is such a great and timely question. And how can you not speak about it in terms of relevance to technology as well, too, right? So as a digital learning adviser, that’s usually one of the key questions I get up front. Certainly from that stakeholders like, but can we map these pathways, these activities to our capability framework? That is one of the most critical ones. And you know, there’s a lot of really great sophisticated technology that helps us do it.

And I think my, sort of, answer to it is coming back to experiences and environments, and not about technology and capability frameworks, you know, and all that kind of stuff, which is all very important. But it is a little bit of cart before the horse. Talking about what is an environment that helps people grow their careers, and do things that are relevant to what is required of them, but also what is interesting to them in order to do it. And we, of course we know in the world of curation and AI, that allows us to map these things a certain way. Think about what the end experience of that might be.

So, an example of that might be oh, well, we, we can, we can map 5000 things to this one capability for you. Is that what learners are looking for? You know, and so just having a really great sense of what. And every organisation is different, right, it’s like understanding how your organisation ticks in terms of how they receive it. Because if you just flaunt the technology and say, now you’ll have unprecedented access to all the things tied to leadership and giving feedback, and you know I think from a learning standpoint, it’s like, I don’t have 20 minutes to dedicate to, you know, writing my own emails, and you expect me to go through 50 TED Talks, three LinkedIn courses, and you know, all of that.

“Having content is great. But having context is much better. And understanding your learners’ context is just paramount so that you can put maybe one or two things in front of them a week. And that nudge, that recommendation is so powerful, that you have a much higher chance of them… learning something from it, not just consuming it.”

So all of it is great, but it just needs to be used with precision. You know, and it just, it needs to be—having content is great. And I’ve been in the content business for a long time. But having context is much better. And understanding your learners’ context is just paramount so that you can put maybe one or two things in front of them a week. And that nudge, that recommendation is so powerful, that you have a much higher chance of them taking it or even better yet, learning something from it, not just consuming it, and bringing that into their next conversation, whether it’s with their manager or whether it’s in a job shadowing opportunity or something like that, to bring it into it. So I’m all onboard with the capabilities and technology partnership. We just need to make sure not to flood our learners with it just because we’re excited about it.

Yeah, and this especially becomes important, like when you bring things closer to, like, in the flow of work, right? It’s, you might be—you might identify that, like, you know, there might have been an assessment, or you might have gone through a much bigger training. At some point, you might say, hey, a big pain point of our organisation is giving feedback, as an example. And I think the tempting side to say is, well, let’s assemble our armies of course libraries together and give them everything possible on feedback. When really, maybe that person a well timed X—I don’t even want to call it a course, but a well timed whatever—maybe 10 minutes before that Thursday afternoon, one-on-one they have with someone where they know they’re struggling to give feedback, using five minutes in a really well-executed, focused way. And you know, getting the context right is going to be 10 times more important than saying, oh, well, we put you on a learning journey for giving feedback, it’s going to take you about five hours to complete. And it’s you know, it’s a basics course. But there should be stuff in there and you need to go and sift and find the stuff there.

Like, no, find within that capability framework ,within that skills framework, find the specific thing that I’m looking for as a learner. Maybe I’m having trouble giving feedback about poor performance in a tech skills environment or something like that. Okay, maybe we need to pair someone up with that in terms of a mentor. Or maybe we have enough of a challenge as an organisation with that one specific thing and might invest, it might make sense for us to invest in a little chunk of a one-minute video or something like that, or, you know.

And that’s the, that’s the business problems, the business decisions we make around, okay, well, if we can improve the context to improve the content, what’s the payoff for that? And kind of just to, to, you know, tie a bow around, what we asked in the beginning was, you know, what’s the most meaningful use of technology? That’s a really great example of like, well, we’ve got—I’ve got all my, I’ve got all my course libraries here, Josh. And I’ve got my two LSB. LMS is over here, Josh, and I’ve got a bunch of learners that seem to be disengaged. And I’ve got some stakeholders that think they know what these people need. Now solve for x, you know. And then the, and the tempting part is to be like, okay, well, let’s just merge these libraries, build a sophisticated capability framework on our platform, and just learning journeys go.

Not necessarily a bad idea. But is it the most efficiently executed idea? That’s, and that’s where we need to come back and ask those simple questions of like, let’s bring our learners into this. What are you looking for? What are you trying to? Well, if you had a perfect technology solution, what would that technology solution do for you?

It’s very easy to overwhelm people these days, because the go-to for most of the content or learning tech stacks is, ‘we have x amount of things’. Are you a big proponent of guided learning over a fully self-directed approach?

You know, it’s funny, my, my entire bias comes from the self-directed world. That’s, that’s really where I’ve spent a good chunk of my time developing self-directed experiences. And so anytime you have guided or synchronous experiences like that, I always look at it from a self-directed lens of like, okay, this is an interesting way to bring it. Because I’ve always had the design challenge of saying, nope, just you versus the computer, go, you know. Which is, which is an interesting way—and also to just get engagement, you know, think about the emotional side of learning, you think about that a lot more in self-directed, because you realise just how isolating it can be compared to social components or guided learning is that.

But I, you know, I have a hard time answering questions like this, because learning is so nuanced that it needs to include everything. It needs to include the informal learning the social learning. It needs to have, it needs to, it needs to have components of self-directed. It needs to have components of, you know, live synchronous in person digital. It needs to have all of those things. And I think anyone that pretends that one is better than the other, just hasn’t sat and saw how people learn, you know, because we all learn in different ways. And I’m not going to talk about learning styles or anything like that, but we all, we all work and we all learn in different ways, which is really exciting. Because I think, you know, in the old days, we weren’t allowed to learn in different ways. You know, and if, you know, you grew up in sort of the college university system, it’s like, no, show up, go to the lecture, do the reading, go to the exam, and it’s done. And it’s like, doesn’t have to be that way. And that actually makes it super exciting. And going on that journey with organisations and partners to understand what makes your organisation tick the best is, that’s one of the most rewarding, rewarding parts of the job if you ask me.

My last question is if anyone’s really interested in getting in touch with you, where can they find you?

Yeah, so two things I would say. One is, if you if you’d like my flavour of sarcasm and wit, I highly recommend you check out Digital Learning Done Right. It’s just a short little audio series, short episodes, a lot of pop culture references that talk about actually a lot of the things we spoke about today. So I definitely think that would be something of interest.

And then the other part of it is, come find me on LinkedIn. And we can connect don’t shy away from reaching out and love grabbing coffees with everyone and learning more about people’s worlds. So yeah, don’t shy away and just you can find me directly on LinkedIn.

This is a transcript from the Strategic L&D Podcast, where we venture through what key L&D opinion leaders are doing today to ensure they’re delivering a strategically impactful L&D function. If you want to stay up to date with our latest releases, subscribe to our learning and development podcast. We’re on most common podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple. You’ll also find us in video form on our YouTube channel.

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